By Jimmy Carlton Sportswriter Published Jan 21, 2016 at 3:04 PM

Marquette entered the Big East season 10-2 and, with wins over the likes of LSU and Wisconsin, possessing the upstart confidence of a young team playing above expectations.  

The Golden Eagles had closed their early schedule with blowout wins over Chicago State and Presbyterian, beating the low-major squads by a combined 35 points and outrebounding them by 25, following the same script they’d used in previous games. They were anchored underneath by big men Luke Fischer and Henry Ellenson, who were among the conference’s leaders (conference play hadn’t yet started, but comparative statistics were still kept) in offensive and defensive rebounds, respectively, and in the top 10 in scoring, as well.

Then began the bruising Big East season, and suddenly Marquette was no longer the brawniest bully on the block. There are no cupcakes in the physical and famously competitive conference, even through the recent realignment. And the Golden Eagles, despite having one of the taller and more talented frontcourts, have struggled mightily on the glass.

In the 10-team Big East, Marquette ranks ninth in defensive rebound percentage (66.7) and 10th in offensive rebound percentage (23.9) through seven league games. Those statistics indicate how many of the total number of rebounds in a game a team gets on either end. So the Golden Eagles are grabbing two-thirds of all the possible boards on defense and less than one-quarter of them on offense, giving their opponents more second chances to score and getting fewer extra opportunities of their own for points. They’re last in overall rebounding margin, at minus-6.4.

Marquette (12-7, 2-5 Big East) has been out-boarded in all but one of its conference games so far, a Jan. 9 win over St. John’s. The disparity has been especially stark in the last two contests of the team’s current three-game losing streak. Against No. 7 Xavier, the Golden Eagles allowed 19 rebounds to reserve forward James Farr and, as a team, were beaten on the glass by 11; in Wednesday’s 57-56 defeat to lowly DePaul, the Golden Eagles gave up 16 offensive boards, which produced 12 second-chance points, more than making the difference in the final result.

In the BMO Harris Bradley Center after the typically raucous home game, head coach Steve Wojciechowski said it was a "difficult way to lose," even though he mostly liked his team’s effort and competitiveness.

"Two areas that have been a real problem for us are rebounding and turnovers," Wojciechowski said. "They had 15 more shots at the basket than we did. I don’t care who you’re playing, that’s a lot of shots."

The Blue Demons finished with 33 boards to the Golden Eagles' 26.

"If you look at the percentages, we did a pretty good job defensively, except rebounding-wise where we gave up 16 offensive rebounds," Wojciechowski said.

Fischer, the 6-foot-11 center, is averaging 7.1 rebounds this year, but is tied for 18th in the conference with only 5.0 in seven games. The redshirt junior has a polished offensive game in the low post but has never rebounded at a rate seemingly consistent with his size, strength or otherwise-sound fundamentals. Hampered by foul trouble – a recurring issue – Fischer had just seven points and four rebounds in 21 minutes against DePaul.

For his part, Ellenson, who’s considered a likely NBA lottery pick when he leaves school, averages 9.5 rebounds for the season. His 8.9 per game are good for second in the Big East. However, over the last three games, the 6-10 freshman forward's output has dropped to 7.0. He’s a gifted athlete who leads the conference in defensive rebounds but, because of his playmaking role, isn’t usually underneath the hoop on offense to grab boards.

Against DePaul, Wojciechowski started redshirt junior Wally Ellenson, the older brother of Henry who transferred to Marquette from Minnesota last year. An NCAA All-American high jumper, the 6-6 track and field standout replaced Sandy Cohen – whose career-high for rebounds is six – at forward in the lineup after he'd pulled down a team-high eight boards in 20 minutes off the bench during the Xavier game. Though he had just two in 12 minutes in the loss to the Blue Demons, the older Ellenson provides much-needed hustle and hops.

Their next game is Saturday on the road against the Red Storm, who is second-to-last in the league in rebounding margin (minus-5.0) and the only team the Golden Eagles have beaten on the glass this season. After that, they host unheralded Stetson, which ranks 254th in the NCAA in rebounds per game, in a nonconference matchup. And then Marquette takes on No. 18 Butler, third-to-last in the Big East in rebounding margin (minus-4.2) and second-worst on the defensive end.

Whether they win all, none or some of those games, the remainder of January presents an opportunity for the Golden Eagles to at least get back to being big on the boards. 

Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.

After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.

Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.